Brief Discussion of Classism in Colombia

Living in Colombia, there are numerous benefits to living in this country

Amazing nature

Exciting culture

Awesome cities with great weather

Sexy Colombian women

But it’s not perfect down here and I often try to paint some of the realities of living down here for those serious about visiting or living in Colombia

As you can imagine, there’s plenty of crime and corruption in this country

And not everything in this country is done properly or efficiently

On top of that, everyone you know will think you have gone crazy for living in a foreign country

While at the same time you might even feel a little bit lonely from time to time while down here – especially if it’s your first few days in Colombia

But one issue that foreigners come across quite a bit is the issue with classism in Colombia

Or better said – classism in Latin America

Because this is a common issue you see in any other Latin American country from what I have seen

Now of course, there is classism in the US as well

But for whatever reason, a lot of foreigners I know, including myself, tend to perceive classism as more intense here

Or at least more obvious?

One of the reasons for why I believe this is the case is because a lot of the foreigners that travel to live in Latin America come from average backgrounds

Most of us are not super rich folks in the States – just normal people who somehow got it worked out to live down here

Then you travel to a country like Colombia where there appears to be even more social and economic inequality

Or at least that it is more in your face than how it was living back home

And on top of that, you are no longer just an average person

You are now a more exotic foreigner that can at times be treated in a nicer way than how local Colombians treat each other

Because of the assumptions that you are more educated, have more money or perhaps even because of being white

Simply put, I believe that extra treatment that foreigners sometimes get down here can have an impact on our perception of how intense classism is down here

And believe me – I could write an entire book on this subject

Perhaps in the future I will even write an “Ultimate Guide” on this subject to more fully engage this topic

But for those interested in a shorter article that briefly gives an introduction to it…

This article will cover some of the more notable you will see classism play out in Colombia (or broadly Latin America in some cases)

Because if you decide to live down here, this will likely be something that irritates you

For me and a lot of foreigners I know, this is often the case

Since in many ways, the classism you see down here is just sometimes absurd or silly

So let’s briefly get into it by covering just the first 5 things that come to my mind

First: Maids

Every time that I have gotten a new apartment in Colombia from what I remember, I have always had a maid offering services.

Maybe not at every apartment but I can’t remember every single case – but it’s been a good deal of the time!

You will find a lot of apartment owners will hire one to clean the place and do work around the apartment for not very much money

However, to foreigners like myself, it just seems silly

I remember one time living in an apartment in Pereira and another American named Juan lived in the apartment building as well

One day, the maid came in and cleaned the place up and left

Juan and I looked around the apartment that day and Juan asked me “did she even do anything?”

Or better asked “why do we pay her?”

It will often seem that having a maid is a waste of money – often it seems like there is not much to clean anyway!

On top of that, it’s not entirely unheard of for a maid to steal a little bit of money when possible while cleaning

That isn’t to say that all maids steal or don’t do anything productive

But sometimes it just seems unnecessary or sometimes it comes with a tiny bit of risk

Though, to be fair, most don’t steal from what I have experienced but it still can be an issue

But with all of that said, it can then be asked – why have them?

Because especially for Americans like myself, it seems like a waste of money

We’re “grown ass adults” here – we can clean our own apartments, thank you.

But to Colombians, that just doesn’t resonate with them – they like their maids

One of the reasons for why they have them from what I have seen is simply to serve as a status symbol to others

That they are wealthy enough to employ someone to be their maid

Which, again, to Americans like myself, can just seem silly and like a waste of money

But it’s part of living down here and part of the classism you will see

Second: Cars & Phones

In Colombia, cars and phones can often be status symbols to Colombians

This is similar to the US obviously in many ways but it seems like Colombians can be a little bit more anal about these two status symbols

Now keep in mind quite a few Colombians cannot afford a car and don’t own one

So for Colombians without a car, the phone is their own little status symbol

What type of phone do you have?

It’s not uncommon to be living in Colombia and having a Colombian look at my phone and ask me why I don’t have a phone that costs a ton of money like $500 bucks or something

It has happened occasionally as Colombians simply look at Americans like we poop out money

So when you are an American with a burner phone like I am, it seems a bit weird to them

I should be walking around with a fancy $1,000 USD smartphone that was made by the Queen of England or the Dalai Lama

Though, to be fair, Colombians never give me attitude or disrespect over it – just confusion occasionally

And amongst themselves, it can be there “go to” status symbol for those without a car.

Then with Colombians that do have a car – keep in mind that simply having any car can be a status symbol

Even if it’s a beat up $1,000 junk car that doesn’t run very well, it still shows that you have enough money to buy it and gas for it as well

Showing you to be in a better financial position than quite a few Colombians

And again, being the American, some Colombians have expressed confusion as to why I don’t have a Lamborghini or some nice vehicle

Even my own girlfriend has asked me “why don’t I get a car in Colombia?”

She knows I can afford it but I’m simply too minimalist and it’s not necessary to have one while living in Colombia

Plus, Colombians generally drive very poorly and I don’t want to be sharing the road with some of the really bad drivers I see here

Also, having a car makes you a bigger target to police for bribes

Either way, both of these things are huge status symbols to a lot of Colombians

Third: Special Treatment

As mentioned in this article I wrote here, it’s not terribly difficult to get free drinks at a bar or a club in Colombia.

You basically have to say it’s your birthday with a Colombian girl and ask if they have any promotions for birthdays.

If they say yes (most likely), they will offer it to you if you agree to buy a beer and hang at their place.

Some of them will ask for an ID to prove it’s your birthday, but it’s easy to get around it because you are a foreigner

Where you can say you left your passport at home and don’t have a national ID obviously

On top of that, they are more likely to believe you simply because you are a foreigner from the first world

And additionally, more likely to assume you have plenty of money to spend at their establishment

Which makes it more likely (not guaranteed) that you can get maybe a free drink or a shot of something at a bar or a club

Not all places will do this but plenty have in my experience and it’s easy enough to do

And this is just one example of the special treatment you get for being a richer foreigner in a country like Colombia

Another case might be you shopping at a store

You don’t find anything you like and decide to walk out without purchasing anything

As you get near, you notice they inspect some random customer to make sure he or she isn’t stealing anything

Even if the person wasn’t engaging in suspicious behavior – they just got to check

But with you – being the white foreigner – they are more likely to not inspect you and let you walk on through without problem

Believing that surely you would not steal anything – after all, you have plenty of money to spend, right?

All of these are just minor examples of how you can get better treatment at different establishments in Colombia for simply being a foreigner

And keep in mind – it’s not just establishments. I have often more frequently encountered most Colombians treating foreigners more nicely than their own people

In part because they are interesting with a different story but also sometimes as well because they come from a higher class financially

In the end, much of this is really meant to show how in many cases classism in Colombia can influence how you are treated in this country

In both good and sometimes weird ways

Fourth: Racism and Classism

In the situation described above of some random customer being suspected of stealing in Colombia…

It might be the case that said customer is black or maybe even indigenous

Very similar to the US, you will notice that classism is often mixed with racism

Now sometimes Colombians will insist that there is no racism in Colombia – only classism

But that’s basically a BS way of trying to put the racism in this country under the rug

There is plenty of racism here and it is often mixed with classism

One time, I was sitting down at a Starbucks in Colombia and was able to order my drink just fine

When a random black dude walks into the store and does have dirtier clothing on

Right away, the security at the store said “no” and escorted the guy out before he even takes a few steps inside

Now you might argue that this is perhaps classism and not racism – since the guy did look a bit poor after all

Or maybe he is well known for causing problems – definitely possible!

But this sort of thing is not entirely common – which is what I’m trying to get at

Where there are cases of Colombians being treated differently because of classism and also because of racism

And how the two can go together quite often

Of course, I’m not saying all Colombians are racist. Most are not.

But like in any country, the two – classism and racism – are often associated together and Colombia is no exception here in my opinion

Fifth: Raising Kids

Over the years of living in Colombia, I have met numerous people in different occupations.

One thing I have noticed is that the few teachers I have met that work at private and expensive schools have told me who their worst students are

Worst in terms of having an entitled and very classist behavior

According to some of the ones I have met, students that have a foreign parent and an foreign sounding last name can be some of the worst ones

In large part because they tend to know they are considered more “upper class” than some of their peer students

With having foreign parents, more money, white skin (most likely), a foreign sounding last name, perfect English and plenty of time abroad in the States, Canada or Europe

And so if you plan on raising children in Colombia (or Latin America), keep this issue in mind when you do raise them down here

According to what I have heard, it’s easy for them to get it in their head that they are something special

And feel better than others

If I was to ever raise kids, I’d do my best to raise better values and principles than that

Final Thoughts

In the end, Colombia is not a perfect country and it has its fair share of classism like any other country would

This is just a brief introduction to some of the different ways in which classism plays out in this country

Now if you have any insight or questions of your own, let me know in the comment section below or send me an email

Thanks for reading and take care

Hasta luego parceros,


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